November is tough. Exam stress begins to mount. You start to realize you’re not as ready as you wanted to be, as you should be, and naturally you start to panic. I thought it would be useful to write about my own experience that may help my colleagues during this tense time — my foray into the world of mindfulness. Admittedly, I have always been fairly cynical when it comes to this topic: meditation, inward focus, training the brain as though it was a muscle; it all seemed too passive. However, I have come to realize the importance of strong mental health especially at times when anxiety is palpable, like exam time, and I would like to share why this topic piqued my interest, how I have started to incorporate a new habit in my daily routine and the potential benefits.
I have written about Dan Harris and his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story before. To this day, it is the only self-help book that 1) I was able to finish, and 2) I could relate to. It was also the first book to introduce the concept of meditation as a means to calm the voice inside my head in an approachable and pragmatic way. Harris explains the practice of meditation and mindfulness as a means to provide “space between impulse and action, so you’re not a slave to whatever neurotic obsession pops into your head.” Mindfulness allows us to slow our thoughts down and respond to situations calmly and collectedly. As law students under considerable pressures, this ability is tremendously valuable.
What is mindfulness meditation? From my own understanding (and I am by no means an expert), this form of meditation uses the body and the breath to focus on the immediate present. It is initiated the same way you would initiate an exercise routine at the gym. With the correct form, and the right amount of reps, your brain will begin to see change in a positive way.
You are not attempting to transport your mind but remain in the present, focusing on your body’s own rhythm. When the mind begins to wander, you bring it back. You remain aware and in the moment. With enough practice, Harris writes, “you can start to see all the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that carom through your skull for what they really are: quantum squirts of energy without any concrete reality of their own.” Essentially, you can slow your thoughts, specifically those thoughts that would normally induce an uncontrollable state of stress or anxiety.
I am embracing technology in order to create this new habit. I have downloaded two apps that offer guided meditation: one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Two may be too much, but I am curious to see if a short practice in the afternoon can raise my energy levels. There are many different apps to choose from. I have selected Headspace and Stop, Breathe & Think. They both have decent reviews and offer a number of free guided meditations. With Headspace, when the trials are done, you can elect to pay for a subscription. Stop, Breathe & Think offers in-app purchases: more guided meditations. What I like best about both of these apps is that they offer reassuring and realistic advice throughout each practice. Funnily enough, every time my mind would wander during practice, the instructor was there to gently remind me to bring my focus back — the timing was impeccable. So far, my motivation to progress is positive.
The proliferation of articles on mindfulness and meditation signals that brain training is on the rise. From professionals to children to athletes, this concept is being embraced worldwide.
Over the summer, Jeena Cho (co-author of The Anxious Lawyer) wrote an article for Forbes on the benefits of this practice, especially for legal professionals. Some of the benefits include reducing anxiety and depression and improving self-image, cognition and focus. This is echoed by Harris. Presently, I cannot speak to the effectiveness — I have a long way to go. At this point, I am open and fairly enthusiastic to the potential that mindfulness meditation can unlock, and while I know it won’t fix everything, I welcome the possibility of self-improvement.